Music release shake-up doesn't work, says Sony Records

12/10/11

Jessie J, Chipmunk and Lady Gaga

One of the UK's biggest record companies, Sony, has said a shake-up to the way their acts release new tracks "does not work".

In January the label, along with Universal, launched a new strategy for releasing music called On Air On Sale.

It meant tracks could be bought as soon as they were played on radio and was introduced to help combat piracy.

A statement from Sony said: "We are now looking at each release on a case-by-case basis."

Labels' view

It said it would still release some music using On Air On Sale but would judge all records by "whatever we think is best for the artists' career".

Universal said the method "remains our policy" but said there had been, and would continue to be, exceptions "depending on what's right for our individual artists".

Before On Air On Sale, songs would be played on radio for weeks ahead of release, in what is known as a "set-up" period.

On air on sale as a one-size-fits-all policy does not work so we are now looking at each release on a case-by-case basis and doing whatever we think is best for the artists' career
Sony Music

Jon Webster, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum, told Newsbeat he was "very sad" to see On Air On Sale "effectively die already".

Research by trade magazine Music Week has suggested that major labels have been gradually easing back on the policy since the initial announcement.

It said 26% of new singles which entered the top 40 during the third quarter of 2011 were released via On Air On Sale.

That was a sharp decrease from the second quarter of the year, when 54% of top 40 tracks were out to buy as soon as the radio played them.

Mr Webster has criticised those labels that have chosen not to adopt On Air On Sale.

"To deny them (consumers) the opportunity of buying something when they've heard it is to deny them an entry point to the market.

"The problem is it's pretty much dead as soon as one company doesn't do it. It was doomed from the time it was voluntary and not compulsory.

"It needs to be everyone, and if it's not everyone, it's not going to work."

Artists' view

He said that the informal end of the policy could have a damaging effect on the music industry, not only because people might download songs illegally before they're available, but also because of the message it sends to the government about piracy.

"If a few people who want to keep analogue, past practices alive and dictate the policy then it's not good news for an industry that is saying to the government we need a level playing field.

Chipmunk
Image caption Rapper Chipmunk told Newsbeat he thought the system was "unfair"

"You can't ask for protection when you're causing the problem."

The new model had high-profile backing from Universal - home to the likes of Lady Gaga and Jessie J.

Warner Music and EMI - the other two major record labels - did not fully commit to using the new system saying they didn't have a "blanket policy" on release schedules.

By the end of spring, doubts about On Air On Sale's effectiveness had already begun to be expressed by some parts of the music industry - including artists.

In April, British rapper Chipmunk told Newsbeat he felt the new system was "unfair".

"If it's going to work, everybody has to do the same thing. The general public need to know the system," he said.

"Fans can't understand if your single is out and it hasn't had much impact, yet somebody else has but they don't know that one's had weeks of promotion."